Since 1982 the Coastal Federation has grown into an extremely influential organization.
Thirty-five years ago, its office was a back bedroom in Todd Miller’s house on Bogue Sound. Todd and in his words “… and my dog Kwawk” were the only employees. Membership cost $5.
The headquarters is now a comfortable old building in the community of Ocean between Swansboro and Morehead City. Two regional offices are also located in Wrightsville Beach and Wanchese. There are over 16,000 members and supporters, over 30 staff members and a multi-million dollar annual budget.
Todd remains executive director.
Throughout its history the Coastal Federation focused on two very different kinds of actions. One is supporting and guiding local groups involved in public debates over important environmental issues. The other is hands-on education and habitat restoration that is fundamental to the long-term health of the coast.
Five significant environmental victories help illustrate the influence of the Coastal Federation and how it works with coastal residents and visitors to protect and restore the coast.
Between 1982 and 1984, Todd and volunteers worked with watermen on the Albemarle-Pamlico peninsula to help block a proposed peat mine operation that would have destroyed 120,000 acres of wetlands and polluted fishing waters. From 1983 to 1987 the Coastal Federation partnered with the Stump Sound fishermen led by Lena Ritter to stop a proposed condominium development on Permuda Island that would have severely polluted Stump Sound. Then the Coastal Federation partnered from 1992 to 2002 with the Bird Island Preservation Society to conserve Bird Island near Sunset Beach.
This century, the Coastal Federation allied with Cape Fear Citizens for a Safe Environment from 2003 to 2007 to get new solid waste legislation approved by the state government and thereby block a large landfill proposed for Navassa, a small African American community near Wilmington. Most recently the Coastal Federation partnered from 2008 to 2016 with several large groups of citizens in and around Wilmington to prevent a Greek-owned corporation named Titan America from building a huge Portland Cement manufacturing plant that would have polluted air and water and destroyed thousands of acres of wetlands. (I am nearing completion of a book on the history of these public policy debates. Much of the book is based on interviews with the people involved.)
Beyond these specific accomplishments, since the mid-1980s the Coastal Federation has negotiated to improve coastal management laws, rules and permits. This includes leading the push to protect coastal waters from polluted stormwater runoff. In recent years, the Coastal Federation has encouraged “low-impact development” that helps developers and homeowners minimize polluted runoff.
Today three coastal educators work with schools to teach students about hydrology and help them build rain gardens. In addition, three restoration scientists are on the staff. A wetlands restoration project covering more than 5,000 acres in Carteret County is nearing completion. A large hydrologic and wetlands restoration project in Hyde County is underway and will go on for years. A large oyster restoration project was completed a few years ago and another is ready to start. And dozens of “living shoreline” and stormwater retrofit projects have been carried out over the last two decades.
While advocacy, education and restoration continue to be the points of emphasis in the Coastal Federation’s work, it now operates an award-winning coastal news service — Coastal Review Online — that belongs to the N.C. Press Association. The news service reports on coastal issues and concerns and produces hundreds of articles each year.
“It would be wonderful if we could work ourselves out of a job,” says Todd. “However, that isn’t ever likely to happen. The more we do, the more opportunities we see to protect and restore our coast.”
Glenn Blackburn, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Virginia’s College at Wise. He is writing a history of the Coastal Federation based upon hundreds of interviews he has conducted with people who have been touched by the organization’s work. Those interviews are on file at the UNC-W Randall Library as part of a special collection of Coastal Federation papers.